By: Alexandra Spadea
Upper School Eurthymy and Festival Committee member
“The original idea of any sacred festival is to make the human being look upward from his dependence on earthly things to those things that transcend the Earth.” – Rudolf Steiner
Celebrating Festivals plays an essential role in our school community life. Seasonal festivals have been celebrated and transformed through the ages, and in our Waldorf schools, we too have found our own meaningful way to honor the seasons and the different moods and qualities they present.
One could say the festivals are the pulse, the memory and the breath of our school community, connecting us with the cosmic cycles of life. When we come together to celebrate festivals in song and word, music and movement, when we lift our hearts and hands to honor the good, and unite our minds to doing well, we cultivate community while also fostering a sense of reverence and appreciation towards the natural world and the spirit that weaves it all together.
Each school year begins and concludes with the Rose Ceremony, giving us a “full circle” experience through the welcoming and farewell roses exchanged between the first and the twelfth graders. The Rose Ceremony bookends our school year together and marks a significant moment in time for our incoming and graduating students.
Our fall term is filled with celebrations, some of which are unique to our Waldorf curriculum.
Michaelmas is one of those festivals that many people are less familiar with. Michaelmas, on September 29th, celebrates the Archangel St. Michael conquering and taming the Dragon, transforming his fierce and threatening energy into strength and clarity, courage and good deeds. For the last eight years, our school marked this day with a celebration in Central Park, but this year we decided to take grades 1-12 to Cropsey Community Farm in Rockland County. We worked on the land together, and collectively gave back to the earth. It was a fabulous day! Despite the wet weather, everybody had a great time working, presenting, and playing together. Being on an open stretch of land that we could call our own for the day gave all of us a sense of freedom and safety. That, in and of itself, was the greatest gift for us as a school community.
Here are some of my reflections from our Michaelmas festival:
- I see Mr. Hoffman sitting in the comfy straw patch surrounded by his students.
- I see Chef Rudy running and wrestling with at least five middle school boys at once.
- I see so many children digging deep for those potatoes.
- I see great flowerbeds being freed from weeds by strong twelve to sixteen year olds.
- I see Ms. Hays and some older students continue through lunch on thirty-two beautifully painted signs for the likes of Asparagus and Lavender.
- I see Mr. Marsh setting up the goat fence with high schoolers and some very able fourth grade girls.
- I see Ms. Venho handing out popcorn faster than it can pop.
- I see Juniors having their lunch, sitting on the shovel of the big tractor.
- I see many pairs of children carrying heavy crates back to the barn filled with the big brussel sprout leaves.
- I hear children sing and speak their Morning Verse, I hear them laugh and chatter, run and play with glee….”
Celebrating festivals brings a sense of rhythm and anticipation, and the reassurance that all good things come back to us each year. Especially for the young children, this is an important part of their growing up, as celebrating festivals together is also a way of keeping time.
The celebration of Martinmas comes on November 11th, just as we begin to feel the colder and darker days of autumn. On this day, you may catch a group of children parading through the building with lanterns for the celebration of Martinmas. St.Martin is remembered for sharing his warm cloak with a beggar – in this festival we cultivate empathy and the beauty of sharing. During that same time, in our lobby, big boxes are overflowing with winter coats to give to those less fortunate.
Many of you joined us for our cherished Thanksgiving assembly, and again in December all were invited to the delightful Winter Concert.
December is a month rich with festivities and surprise visits. It is a surprise, indeed, when on December 6th the celestial visitor St. Nicolas knocks at the door of our classrooms, and with him his friendly, yet slightly roguish helper, Ruprecht.
Reading from his big golden book, St. Nicolas shares precise and loving observations of the children, and their work and strivings. His visit brings a moment of magic to the children and a sense of “being seen.” Each child receives a shiny red juicy apple from Ruprecht and the teacher receives a golden walnut for the classroom.
One week later, illumined by her crown, Santa Lucia, portrayed by the oldest second grader, leads her class through the school, gifting each person with a delicious cookie.
The Advent Spiral for the younger children presents a beautiful journey from darkness to light as each child walks through the evergreen spiral towards the candle in the center.
The Nativity Play, performed with much inwardness and sincerity by the eighth grade, and the Paradise Play, presented by the faculty, round off the December festivities. Along with the above mentioned, various celebrations occur in the classrooms. From candle dipping in the Early Childhood on the last days before the winter break, to songs and stories, parties and assemblies in both buildings we celebrate this festive season.
As the curriculum is rich in the studies of ancient cultures and all religions, each class also has their own festivals honoring a variety of faiths in the course of the year. Once a month colleagues from all areas of the school gather to share, study, review and plan future events. During Festival times, we as colleagues take meeting-time to celebrate as well. Our celebrations often include a sharing of thoughts and inspirations about the significance of the festival. We may sing together, listen to a musical presentation, enjoy some Eurythmy, engage in an artistic activity and always enjoy some delicious food as well. Last Spring, the faculty had a Passover Seder, complete with a special Haggadah and all of the significant foods.
We find these moments of celebration always bring us closer together, and remind us of the importance of acknowledging these celestial markers of time. When working with the teachers of the first Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner stressed the importance of celebrating festivals with the students and colleagues. We are grateful for this impulse and the freedom to celebrate the festivals.
January is a month where we feel perhaps a little closer to the stars and the heavenly arc above us. It is a time where we orient
ourselves with vision and intention towards a new beginning. In soul and nature, we can feel the radiant inner mood of winter beginning to shine outward again, giving strength and energy to new projects. The Lunar New Year, in the sign of the Rooster year, is about confidence and pride and was marked with a most beautiful dance performance by the Chinese Cultural Center for Grades 1-6, a generous gift by one of our families. Among other things, we witnessed how the dancers kindness and playfulness transformed an initially scary and threatening looking dragon into a most friendly and charming beast. The company also invited some children onto the stage and taught them the ribbon dance movements, from rainbow to fireworks and waterfall. It was a delightful experience for all.
In January, we also gratefully remember the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrate his peaceful and passionate leadership towards equal existence for all beings. He is a shining beacon of encouragement and fuels our commitment as individuals and in our communities to act with integrity and care. We honored Dr. King’s legacy in the middle and upper school with a series of events, including an 8:00AM talk; a 7th-9th grade assembly, film, and discussion; and a special High School Assembly. The high school hosted James Williams, a white, non-Native American military veteran who participated in non-violent direct action in North Dakota this fall. James shared about his journey, along with 4000 other Veterans, to Standing Rock, to serve as “water protectors” of the sacred Sioux lands, rivers, and waters. In a powerful closing ceremony, the vets formally asked the Sioux elders for forgiveness for the devastating and disrespectful treatment of American Indians, stretching from history to the present day.
We could keep ourselves busy with festival celebrations every week, as there are many more festivals of many more cultures to celebrate. Certainly, more festivals than mentioned above are celebrated in the classrooms, either by virtue of the curriculum itself or because of a child in the class whose family carries a tradition. If there are festivals that are close to your heart and you would like to see honored in a particular way, feel free to reach out to our festival committee for consideration.
Thank you for your support and participation of our work with your children in the realms of soul nourishment and community, I believe it makes us all a little stronger and gives a sense of being part of a bigger circle of life.
Stay tuned as we move through Midwinter, and from Spring to Summer!